VARSITY FOOTBALL: Mitchell advances to final four

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Mountaineers turn attention to East Surry in a battle of top West Region squads

  • tanner duncan
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Mitchell High School junior running back Tanner Duncan hits a hole and sprints toward the end zone Friday, Nov. 29 against visiting Swain. Mitchell's win over Swain set up a Regional Championship matchup Friday, Dec. 6 at East Surry. (Brandon Roberts/MNJ)

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After defeating Swain Co. this past Friday in the third round of the state 1AA football playoffs, the Mitchell High School Mountaineers will now play away from Ledger for the first time since the Friday, Nov.1, game at Polk. The No. 2-seed Mountaineers will travel to Pilot Mountain to play high-powered No. 1-seed East Surry in the regional championship.

“It’s more about how we’re going to respond to being on the road,” said Travise Pitman, head football coach at Mitchell. “Sometimes, it’s good to get away from here for a game.”

A deep playoff run is familiar territory for East Surry and its second-year head coach Trent Lowman – the Cardinals made it to the 1AA State Championship this past season but fell 50-10 to the East Region's top seed, Tarboro. 

The No. 4-seeded Cardinals advanced to the championship with three-straight double-digit playoff wins, including road upsets over higher seeds Mount Airy (No. 1 seed) and Starmount (No. 2 seed).

The Cardinals are led by their high-octane offense, which is averaging 54 points per game this season. The team has outscored its opponents 708-151. 

East Surry is pass-heavy, averaging more than 300 yards per game through the air compared to more than 150 per game on the ground. 

The efficiency of quarterback Jefferson Boaz has been a big part of East Surry’s success through the air. The 6-8, 240-pound senior has completed 73 percent of his passes this season for 3,837 yards and 56 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions. 

Boaz boasts a 145.2 quarterback rating this season, but he is also a threat to tuck it and run – he has scrambled 51 times for 442 yards and a team-high 16 touchdowns. 

Senior Elijah Wright is the team’s top rusher with 75 carries for 763 yards and 11 touchdowns. 

When Boaz does let the ball fly, it’s frequently in the direction of one of his top two targets – senior receivers Stephen Gosnell and Landon Stevens. 

Gosnell is the team’s leading receiver with team-highs in receptions (51), receiving yards (1,196) and receiving touchdowns (19). Stevens has hauled in 47 passes for 1,141 yards and 18 touchdowns. 

Senior Dillon Mosley is also a frequently used weapon in the passing game. He has 49 receptions for 878 yards and 14 touchdowns. 

Pitman said his defense would have to be ready to slow East Surry's tempo. 

"They spread you out, and they throw it," he said. "They have a lot of good athletes, and they're well-coached. We have to figure out how to slow them down and keep them out of their rhythm."

Junior Isaac Washington leads the East Surry defense with 90 total tackles, including 25 for a loss. Washington, a starter on the defensive line, also leads the team in sacks with 12 and has been credited with 21 quarterback hurries. 

Sophomore Benji Gosnell and senior Joshua Joyce have also regularly disrupted opposing quarterbacks, combining for 11 sacks and nine quarterback hurries. 

Junior Safety Tye Needham leads the East Surry secondary. He has six of his team's 22 interceptions while junior safety Luke Bullington has four interceptions. 

Pitman said while East Surry will be one of Mitchell's tougher tests this season, he expects his team to be ready to leave it all on the field. 

“It’ll be good for our kids,” Pitman said. “We know what’s at stake. I anticipate a great game out of both teams.”